“Another one, Brady. I don’t have all night.”
The bartender sighed when Hank thumped his fist on the bar. That crack was already there. I know it was.
“One terabin per customer. You know the rules.”
“I’m not even close to drunk enough.”
Shaking his head, the bartender put a glass of water in front of Hank. The water swayed. Maybe the bar swayed. A single terabin would’ve taken down a human and sent them to the ER. A second one would even put a troll on the floor. Hank was pretty sure he could manage another.
Brady put his hands on the bar and leaned in. “What’s happened, Hank? This isn’t like you.”
Hank tried to answer, his short tusks getting in the way of his words. That hadn’t happened since he was a teenager.
“What was that?”
“They fired me today. Fired me.” Hank gave up trying to look menacing and put his head in his hands.
“Did you screw something up? Lose a decimal place or something?” What Brady knew about accounting probably wouldn’t have filled half a jigger.
“No.” Hank gulped a breath. “I did my job. I worked hard. But the new manager… She said I wasn’t commensurate with the company image.”
“Wait. Just ’cause of how you look? You could file a complaint?”
“Sure. Right. The pretty sylphs in the non-human rights office are gonna get right on that. Far as they’re concerned, the only place I should be is locked up.”
The bartender winced in an uncomfortable way and patted Hank’s arm awkwardly. “Not like you’re riding a varg down the street swinging a battle-axe. You’re, you know, civilized. Still can’t serve you another one.”
A bitter smile curled Hank’s mouth as he took the water and chugged half of it down. “Thanks, Brady. I feel so much better now. I’ll… I guess I’ll find something. Somewhere.”
Out on the sidewalk, Hank breathed in the relatively fresh air. Poisoned with exhaust fumes and all the reek of too many humans in too small a space—still it was cooler and not the close, claustrophobic smell of the bar. He probably shouldn’t have let Brady’s racist comments go, but tonight he was too damn tired to deal with it, and Brady needed to count his lucky pebbles that Hank wasn’t some thin-skinned goblin kid with a chip bigger than his head. You’re okay, Hank. You’re one of the few good goblins. Not like those other filthy barbarians. Pat the half-gobbo on the head and smile.
He wanted chilies, huge bags of them, wanted to drown in the capsaicin high they’d bring. But he had enough sense, even this drunk, to know he’d overdo it in his current state of mind and probably end up in the ER from a ghost pepper OD again.
Once was enough.
No. Go home. Get some sleep. Figure it out in the morning.
He’d manage. He always did.
It was just that this time he thought he had managed. Found a place for himself. Reached the spot where things could be routine, and he could be normal. Just another worker bee in the crowd.
The screech of tires on pavement yanked him out of his reverie and just about made him jump out of his skin. His reactions were muddled and slow, but the shot of adrenaline racing through him as he stared at the truck only inches away was almost enough to knock him sober.
The driver’s door opened, and a tall elf got out. His face was full of haughty arrogance and disdain, as was usual for aelfe, but his words were even and neutral as he asked, “Are you all right?”
Before Hank could answer the passenger door opened, and another elf got out, this one a drow. “You are walking where vehicles are supposed to be driven.”
“Get back in the truck, Ryld,” the first elf said sternly.
“But, he’s walking where vehicles are driven. That’s against the rules.”
“Get. In. The. Truck. Ryld.”
The drow cut his eyes away. He made some odd gestures but sat back down and closed his door. Even from behind the windshield Hank could pick out how unnaturally blue his eyes were. He’d only ever seen drow with red eyes or white.
“Are you all right?” the blond elf asked again.
Hank pulled in a slow breath, then two more. The rising nausea settled, and he leaned a hand against the lamppost on the corner. “Fine. I’m fine. You stopped in time.”
The elf stared at him, maybe thinking Hank owed him a thank you for not ploughing over him. Finally, he gave a sharp nod. “Okay. Good.”
That was it. He climbed back into the truck, shut the door, said something sharp to the drow and drove off.
Weird. That was…weird. Though maybe the terabin had made the whole interaction so strange. Maybe there hadn’t been any blue-eyed drow insisting on road rules. Hank shook himself, hurried across the street and reached his apartment building without any further bizarre incidents.